Airport plans to speed up wait times, ease stress

By Daniel Silliman


The registered traveler program is finally coming to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

For a fee of $128 a year, the privately run program allows travelers to go through an extensive security check and official "threat assessment" in advance -- and then breeze through airport security with the flash of a high-tech card.

The card contains the customer's "biometrics," his or her iris scans and fingerprints.

The program was approved for the airport by the City of Atlanta the first week of June. By Friday, airport operations and Transportation Security Administration officials were in implementation talks.

"It's not a matter of 'if,' now. It's a matter of 'when.' Currently, we're just going through the preliminary stages of discussing how we're going to implement it," said Herschel Grangent, Hartsfield-Jackson spokesman.

The Atlanta version of the registered traveler program will be run by the private firm, Clear. Clear has registered and pre-screened about 160,000 travelers, in the United States.

It has already contracted with 17 U.S. airports, including Washington D.C.'s Dulles and Ronald Reagan; New York's LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy; and airports in Denver, Colo., Oakland, Calf., and Jacksonville, Fla.

There is not yet a roll-out date for the program in Atlanta.

Grangent said the program is another example of the airport trying to keep up with the massive amount of traffic flying out of the city.

"We're the busiest airport in the world. We're constantly trying to find ways to increase our through-put, the number of people who pass through the airport in an hour. We're trying to keep the wait time down to 20 minutes. We're going to have to come up with creative, innovative ways to do that," Grangent said.

The adoption of the registered traveler program is one of two new security-screening changes airport officials will be working on this summer, along with the addition of security lanes. The changes will reconfigure the lines, adding four more lanes at the checkpoint, according to airport officials.

Jon Allen, a TSA spokesman, said the airport's changes reflect a development seen across the country. Just in the last year, airports have been moving away from the mass, egalitarian system, where everyone is herded through security in exactly the same way.

The TSA has worked with, accepted and agreed to facilitate, the market-driven, registered traveler program. Another evolution, Allen said, is the self-selecting, graded lanes.

That program started in February at the Salt Lake City airport, with three lanes: One for frequent and experienced travelers, who want to move quickly; one for casual, occasional travelers; and one for families and people who want to take their time passing through the lines.

"We did some focus groups last fall," Allen said, "and we found that people really want to go through at their own pace. We found that families will show up early, show up in plenty of time so they can take their time, and they really don't want to be in somebody's way."

Each change -- adding lanes, setting-up fast and slow lanes, and bringing in a registered travelers program -- is sold as better customer service. The changes, it is said, will allow travelers to move more quickly, more efficiently and more comfortably. The changes also enhance security.

"For us at TSA, we are seeing this kind of double-edged benefit," Allen said. "Anything we can do to calm down the checkpoint, to calm everything down, serves to increase security. Anybody with bad intent or negative intent stands out that much more, for the TSA agents doing behavioral observation. If we can take that stress and reduce it, travelers have a better experience and we're all safer."